Skoufis says he would have voted against Cuomo’s raise

State Sen. James Skoufis, who stepped out of the Senate chamber before his colleagues voted on a giant raise for Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 1, clarified in a statement on Tuesday that he would have opposed the pay increase if he had been present for the roll call.

“Of course I would’ve voted no,” the Woodbury Democrat said. “I left the chamber in protest, refusing to take part in what can only be described as a joke, if only it wasn’t so serious.”

Skoufis previously had said that he left to use the bathroom after an overnight voting session on the budget, but had declined to say if he supported or opposed the pay increase. He and Sen. Jen Metzger, a fellow Democratic freshman who represents an adjacent district and works closely with Skoufis, both left their seats before the 36-24 vote approving the raise.

The resolution hiked Cuomo’s $179,000 salary to $200,000 for this year, $225,000 for 2020 and $250,000 for 2021. It also granted three consecutive raises to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The same appointed panel that recommended those amounts also awarded state lawmakers three years of increases, the first in Albany for elected officials in 20 years.

Almost every Republican legislator in both chambers voted against the Democratic governor’s $71,000 combined raise, as did a small number of Democrats, including Assembly members Aileen Gunther of Forestburgh and Kevin Cahill of Kingston. Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson of Newburgh was the only lawmaker out of 10 representing Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties that voted in favor of the pay increase.

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Ryan, Hayes set to compete in two Ulster county executive elections

The matchup for two elections for Ulster County executive was set this week with Democrat Pat Ryan and Conservative Jack Hayes filing petitions for the November general election and no other candidates joining the race to force primaries.

Ryan and Hayes already had been nominated by Ulster’s Democratic and Republican committees to run in an April 30 special election to be county executive through the end of this year to complete Mike Hein’s unexpired term. Hein departed in February after 10 years as county executive to take a job as commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Ryan, runner-up in last year’s seven-way Democratic primary for the 19th Congressional District seat, was also the party’s endorsed candidate to run for a full term as county executive, but faced a possible June 25 primary against former Woodstock Supervisor Jeff Moran. Moran said on Facebook on Thursday that he was unable to collect the 750 petition signatures he needed by the 5 p.m. deadline that day.

Hayes, a former Gardiner supervisor and county legislator, is an enrolled Conservative and chairman of the county’s Conservative Party, but has been backed by the county Republicans and will run on both the GOP and Conservative ballot lines (Ryan has three lines: Democratic, Working Families and Independence). No registered Republicans petitioned to compete with Hayes to seek a four-year term as county executive, setting the stage for a pair of Ryan-Hayes elections on April 30 and Nov. 5.

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New Windsor rivals set for rematch after 14 years

The only two men to run one of Orange County’s largest towns for the last 32 years are set to square off again this year, for the first time since George Green unseated George Meyers as New Windsor supervisor in 2005.

Both Georges filed Republican petitions for supervisor this week, setting the stage for a June 25 primary if both of their petitions survive any challenges. Meyers, who succeeded Green as supervisor in 1994 and held the office for 12 years, also has been endorsed by Democrats to run on their ballot line, ensuring him a major-party line in the Nov. 5 general election and a second contest with Green if Green wins the GOP primary.

Green was first elected supervisor in 1987 and served for six years, and then was an Orange County legislator until he returned to town office by defeating Meyers in 2005.

Five other June 25 primaries for mayor or town supervisor are brewing in Orange County if the petitions filed this week stand up.

Brian Maher, a former Walden mayor and aide to Sen. Bill Larkin, plans to challenge first-term Montgomery Supervisor Rodney Winchell in a Republican primary. Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey, in office for just a year, faces a Democratic primary against Ali Muhammad. Cornwall Supervisor Richard Randazzo is being challenged in a Democratic primary by town Councilman Michael Summerfield. Goshen Supervisor Doug Bloomfield and Joseph Betro will compete in a Republican primary. And Republicans Geoffrey Stafford and David Zubikowski are vying to become the next Greenville supervisor.

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Schmitt touts victories in budget he mostly opposed

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt held a press conference in New Windsor with local officials on Wednesday to celebrate parts of the state budget completed two days earlier, such as a provision that made permanent the property-tax cap New York has had since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011.

The only problem is that Schmitt voted against nine of 10 budget bills, including the one that contained the permanent tax cap.

Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican who took office in January, explained by phone on Wednesday that the one bill he did support – Aid to Localities – contained most of the items he touted that day, which were largely averted cuts like the aid that the Cuomo administration had proposed stripping from most towns and villages. And he said he voted against the tax-cap bill because it contained policies he strongly opposed, like the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies and the creation of a “congestion-pricing” toll for driving below 60th street in Manhattan.

Schmitt wields little budget clout as a new member of a weak minority, but he said he feels sure he helped secure the permanent tax cap – even through Cuomo was so insistent on it that he refused to sign a budget without it, and even though the Senate had voted 58-2 for a permanent cap in January. He wasn’t one of the “three men in a room” in Albany’s notoriously closed budget haggling, but he did introduce a tax-cap bill, issue press releases and attend rallies to promote a permanent cap, including one that Cuomo held in Westchester County last month.

“I was proud to lead that effort for my conference and the (Assembly) chamber,” Schmitt said, later adding, “I am confident my efforts played a role in making this a reality.”

He took a bolder view in a press release last Sunday, declaring that he had “delivered” the permanent cap and thereby achieved his “top legislative priority in less than 3 months in office.”

The cap has restrained tax increases by letting school districts and local governments raise their levies by no more than two percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less – a limit that boards can be override but usually don’t. Had it not been made permanent, it would have been up for renewal next year because of a sunset clause.

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Metzger will hold hearing in Sullivan County on farm workers’ rights bill

State Sen. Jen Metzger and a fellow senator have scheduled a public hearing in Sullivan County and two elsewhere in the state on a long-standing proposal to expand the labor rights of farm workers, a bill that farmers have steadfastly opposed as a threat to their businesses.

“It’s very important that we hear from farmers and farm workers as we weigh this legislation and make sure that we are addressing the concerns and needs of all of those who will be affected,” Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat who took office in January, said in a press release on Friday. “We must take into careful consideration the realities of small and family-owned farm operations – the vast majority of farms in New York – and the long-term viability of agriculture in the state.”

Metzger is chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and represents Orange County’s Black Dirt vegetable-growing region and other farming areas in the 42nd Senate District, which takes in all of Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware.

Also presiding over the upcoming hearings will be Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat who is sponsoring the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act and is chairwoman of the Senate Labor Committee. She demanded reforms in the press release, saying “there is a Jim Crow-era law still on our books that denies human beings – mostly black and Latino taxpaying New Yorkers – parity with nearly every other worker in this state.”

The bill’s provisions include allowing farm workers to unionize; mandating overtime pay after eight hours of work per day or 40 weekly hours; and offering unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.

The New York Farm Bureau praised Metzger for holding the hearings, saying she “has been working with us since early February to ensure that hearings will take place in key agricultural communities across the state before this bill goes to the Senate floor.” Bureau President David Fisher said in a separate release that the bureau supported some parts of the bill, including a required day of rest for farm workers, but called mandatory overtime “a difficult financial burden to bear.”

“Farms compete in a marketplace and can’t just pass along price increases to recoup their losses, especially in this difficult farm economy,” Fisher said. “The farm labor legislation as written will force farms out of business hurting the very workers the legislation is looking to assist.”

Orange County lawmakers are poised to pass a resolution on Friday declaring their opposition to the bill.

The Sullivan County hearing will take place from 1-5 p.m. on May 2 at SUNY Sullivan, 112 College Road in Loch Sheldrake. Anyone who wants to attend or testify should register at or by calling 845-344-3311.

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Ryan, Moran may compete in Dem primary for Ulster county exec

Pat Ryan, the Democrat running in a special election April 30 to serve the remainder of Mike Hein’s term as Ulster County executive, may face a primary challenge in June for the subsequent race this year for a full, four-year term as Hein’s successor.

Former Woodstock Supervisor Jeff Moran said Friday that he was still collecting signatures to clear the 750-name threshold, but that he plans to file a Democratic petition for county executive by next Thursday’s deadline, which would force a June 25 primary against Ryan if its survives any challenges. Ryan, an Iraq War veteran who finished second in last year’s seven-way primary for the 19th Congressional District seat, is the Democrats’ nominee for the special election and its endorsed candidate to seek a full term in November.

Ulster County Conservative Party Chairman Jack Hayes – a former county legislator and Gardiner town supervisor – is the Republicans’ nominee for the April 30 special election, and the candidate who will represent the GOP in the Nov. 5 general election (barring any unexpected petition next week by a Republican candidate.)

Candidates running for office in Ulster and everywhere else in New York will file their petitions from Monday to Thursday.

Hein resigned in February after 10 years as county executive to become commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. His former chief of staff, Adele Reiter, is serving as acting county executive until the special election winner takes office.

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Maloney bill would ban use of Medicaid for “conversion therapy”

A bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney would prohibit using Medicaid to pay for gay “conversion therapy,” counseling that critics rip as a cruel and ineffectual attempt to change a patient’s sexual orientation.

“Conversion practices are discredited, harmful, and not therapy,” Maloney said in a press release. “Fundamentally, conversion tactics are based on the idea that a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation are diseases to be cured — they have no legitimate medical application and should not be used anywhere. Until we can just ban conversion ‘therapy’ all together, we must ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t funding a fraudulent practice that has been roundly discredited by the medical community.”

Sixty-three House Democrats co-sponsored the bill. Maloney, D-Cold Spring, is co-chairman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law in January that prohibits professional therapists in New York from trying to change the sexual orientation of patients younger than 18. The conversion-therapy ban applies only to licensed mental-health professionals, not clergy or other non-licensed figures. Violators would face professional misconduct sanctions ranging from a reprimand to license revocation and fines.

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Skoufis bill would let districts mandate kindergarten

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill by state Sen. James Skoufis on Tuesday that would allow any school district in New York to require all 5-year-olds to attend kindergarten, something only eight of the state’s 700 districts mandate through separate bills they have gotten passed in Albany.

“When children are given a well-rounded kindergarten education, it fosters crucial social, emotional, and cognitive development,” said Skoufis, who previously fought for state aid that will help Washingtonville School District switch from half-day kindergarten to full-day classes this fall.

State law currently requires mandates schooling for grades 1-12, but not kindergarten. According to a memo with Skoufis’ bill, the school systems that have gotten special legislation to require kindergarten are New York City, Syracuse, Rochester, Utica, Buffalo, Cohoes, Watervliet and Yonkers.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat who took office in January, sponsored the same bill last year as an assemblyman.

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Delgado staff holding office hours in Sullivan

Rep. Antonio Delgado’s staff will hold office hours in two Sullivan County locations on April 22 to help constituents with bureaucratic issues, grant applications and other federal services.

District caseworkers will be at Fallsburg Library at 12 Railroad Plaza in South Fallsburg from 10 a.m. to noon, and at the Mamakating Library at 128 Sullivan St. in Wurtsboro from 1-3 p.m.

The caseworkers will stop in three of the 19th Congressional District’s other 10 counties on other dates in April.

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Schmitt introduces term-limit, double-dipping bills (updated)

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt introduced a term-limit bill on Wednesday that would limit statewide officials at state lawmakers to eight years in office and politically appointed staffers to 12 years of employment.

The second part is a new wrinkle in term-limit proposals that previously have gone nowhere in the Legislature. Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican elected last year to succeed now-Sen. James Skoufis, had argued during the campaign last year that appointed staff members in the Legislature amass too much hidden power and should have their tenures restricted in tandem with term limits for elected officials.

One day before Schmitt filed his bill, Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, introduced the Senate version of an earlier proposal Schmitt sponsored that would prohibit elected officials from collecting their state pensions and public salaries at the same time. While still a college student, Schmitt had waged a public campaign against “double-dipping” after then-Sen. Bill Larkin and then-Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun started claiming their pensions in 2011, while they were still in office.

(Update: State legislative records indicate the double-dipping bill that Schmitt announced this month actually dates back to 2011, when two Democratic senators introduced it. Skoufis sponsored it in the Assembly in 2016, 2017 and 2018.)

Larkin and Calhoun – both Republicans – continued collecting both their salaries and pensions until their retirements, Calhoun in 2012 and Larkin last year (Skoufis succeeded both). Former Republican Sen. John Bonacic of Orange County drew his salary and pension from 2015 until his retirement last year. Sen. James Seward, a Republican whose district includes part of Ulster County, started collecting his pension two years ago.

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